- Austral Wheel Race
The Austral Wheel Race is the oldest track bicycle race in the world still occurring, with a history stretching back to 1887. The Austral race is widely regarded as Australia’s greatest track cycling event, it is held in
Melbourne, Australia. Like the Melbourne Cuphorse race it is a handicap event where riders are assigned handicaps according to ability over a series of heats. The finals are run over a distance of 2000 m.Paul Daffey, " [http://www.theage.com.au/news/sport/the-1975-austral-wheelrace/2006/02/03/1138958907927.html The 1975 Austral Wheelrace] ", The Age, February 4, 2006. Accessed September 12, 2008]
The race in 2004 and 2005 was held at Vodafone Arena in February. The first race in 1887 was held at the
Melbourne Cricket Groundover a distance of 3 miles (4800 m), with first prize of a grand piano valued at 200 pounds. Other venues in Melbourne to host the race include the Exhibition Track, the North Essendon board track, the Olympic Park Velodrome and the Brunswick, Coburg and Northcote velodromes. Malvern Star, a leading brand in bicycles in Australia throughout the twentieth century, had its origins in the race. In December 1898 a young bicycle mechanic and professional cyclist by the name of Tom Finnegan won from a handicap of convert|220|yd, holding off the backmarkers with a foot to spare. The prize money of 240 sovereigns enabled him to establish a suburban bicycle shop, Malvern Star Cycles, which later became a household name under the business acumen of Bruce Small.
Corruption tinged the event in 1901 when American, "Plugger" Bill Martin won from scratch, amid allegations of race fixing by
John Wren. According to a report in The Agein 1903 referring to the 1902 race: "one of the judges appointed to officiate at the Austral Wheel meeting was called upon to resign, because he had a monetary interest in the result of the Austral Wheel Race." [http://www.echoed.com.au/chronicle/1903/janfeb/general.htm]
In February 2005 Ben Kersten won from Scratch in a time of 2min. 06.10 sec. at an average speed of 57.09 km/h.
Prize Money for the event has varied, roughly following the fashion for cycling and cycling sports. From the initial first prize of a Grand Piano, to monetary prizes of 240 sovereigns in 1898, 1050 sovereigns in 1902, to a low point of $1500 during the 1970s, increasing to $5,000 in 1982, and now exceeding $18,000 in recent stagings of the event since 2000.
Past competitors include many distinguished Australian and international track cyclists, including World Champions,
Gordon Johnsonand Steele Bishop, Sid Patterson, Russell Mockridge, Danny Clarke, Brett Aitken, Gary Neiwandand Shane Kelly. The record for the most wins belongs to Victorian Stephen Patewith four victories: in 1988 from scratch, in 1991 from -10 metres, in 1993 from -20 metres and his most recent 1999 win, from scratch.
In 2000, Gary Neiwand, one of Australia's greatest sprinters, was liberally handicapped on 70 metres for the millennium edition of the event, and won comfortably.
* [http://canberrabicyclemuseum.com.au/MalvernStar/tom_finnigan.htm Tom Finnigan]
* [http://www.cyclingnews.com/results/2002/feb02/austral02.shtml Austral Wheel Race history]
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